NCHC Playoff Preview: UND vs. Denver

In the 2021 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, both matchups will feature the seventh meeting of the season between conference rivals. In the afternoon game, #2-seed St. Cloud State (16-9-0) will square off against #3-seed Minnesota Duluth (14-9-2), and top-seeded North Dakota (19-5-1) will face off against 5th-seeded Denver (10-12-1) in the nightcap.

During the regular season, SCSU had the better of it against the UMD Bulldogs, with four wins and two losses. Each team has scored sixteen goals in the season series.

North Dakota holds a season record of 4-2 against Denver, outscoring the Pioneers 20-13 in those six contests. UND allowed ten goals in the first three meetings with a record of 1-2; since their loss in game one at Denver on January 17th, the Fighting Hawks have notched three consecutive victories over DU (13 goals for, 3 goals against). That mid-January defeat was definitely a wakeup call for Brady Berry’s squad; since that time, the Green and White are 10-2 overall, outscoring opponents 55-20.

An NCAA tourney berth should be locked up for the top three seeds in the nation’s best conference. There is still a question whether Denver (and, for that matter, Omaha) has done enough to earn an at-large bid to the national tournament.

The Pioneers were able to defeat Omaha 5-4 on Saturday afternoon despite missing eight players due to the league’s COVID-19 protocol. Freshman forward McKade Webster (3-6-9), senior forward Steven Jandric (1-5-6), sophomore forward Brett Edwards (2-2-4), senior forward Jake Durflinger (2-2-4), freshman forward Carter King (0-1-1), freshman forward Jack Works (0-1-1), freshman defenseman Reid Irwin (3-0-3), and sophomore defenseman Lane Krenzen (0-1-1) appeared in a combined 107 games this season but did not make the trip to Grand Forks; the first four listed above were fixtures in the Pios lineup all year long.

Head coach David Carle made it clear yesterday that none of the players in protocol would be flown in and available for tonight’s semifinal matchup with North Dakota.

A ninth player – junior forward Brett Stapley (4-3-7 in thirteen games) – underwent season-ending surgery last month, which meant that Denver brought only nine healthy forwards to Grand Forks. Senior defenseman Bo Hanson (0-3-3 in ten games headed into the tournament) moved up to play forward against the Mavericks and scored the game-winning goal with just over five minutes remaining in regulation, part of a three-goal third period for the Pioneers. The other two DU markers in the final frame came off the stick of freshman defenseman Mike Benning, his second and third goals of the season.

In the NCHC, it is clear that Denver/North Dakota is at the top of the league rivalries. The teams have played 33 times during the first seven seasons of the new conference, but the feud goes all the way back to Geoff Paukovitch’ illegal check on Sioux forward Robbie Bina during the 2005 WCHA Final Five.

Since that 2005 Final Five contest (a Denver victory), the two teams have met twelve times in tournament play. Denver won the 2005 NCAA title with a victory over North Dakota and claimed a 2008 WCHA Final Five win as well. UND has earned six victories and a tie in the last ten playoff games between the schools, including three consecutive victories in the WCHA Final Five (2010-2012), the 2011 NCAA Midwest Regional final which sent the Fighting Sioux to the Frozen Four, 2016’s thrilling Frozen Four semifinal (a 4-2 UND victory) in Tampa, Florida, and the 2017 NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Denver turned the tables by dispatching North Dakota in the first round of the league playoffs at Magness Arena to end the Fighting Hawks’ 2018-2019 campaign.

(It is impossible to bring up the Paukovitch/Bina incident without also writing that Brad Malone‘s check on Denver’s Jesse Martin during an October 2010 contest at Ralph Engelstad Arena fractured three of Martin’s vertebrae and ended the hockey career of the Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick.)

And this season has been no different, with the teams combining for 187 penalty minutes in six games. The last contest between the squads in Denver saw a DU goaltender run over with nine minutes remaining, which ignited tempers further. That spilled over to the series in Grand Forks last month, with the Pioneers “winning” the penalty minute battle 54-29. North Dakota won the specialty teams battle, scoring two goals on ten man advantage opportunities and blanking DU on its ten power play chances.

In Saturday’s series finale, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

Seven full seasons have come and gone since the college hockey landscape changed forever. With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for the Big Ten after the 2012-13 season, several other conference schools and two members of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association created the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and left Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Minnesota State behind in a watered-down WCHA.

It is abundantly clear that the NCHC has been the premier hockey conference since its inception, and particularly over the past six seasons. The eight teams in the league have gone 326-158-63 (.654) in non-conference action since the start of the 2014-15 season and sent nine teams to the Frozen Four (UND and Omaha in 2015, UND and Denver in 2016, Denver and Duluth in 2017, Duluth in 2018, and Denver and Duluth in 2019) over that five-year stretch (there was no national tournament last season). Conference members North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017), and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) have won the last four national titles.

In the 2019 NCAA tournament, league members Denver and St. Cloud State were both placed in the West Regional (Fargo, North Dakota) and were on track to face off in the regional final. The Pioneers (#6 in the country) held up their end of the bargain with a 2-0 victory over #9 Ohio State, but #19 American International shocked the college hockey world and dispatched the #1-ranked Huskies by a final score of 2-1. One night later, Denver blanked AIC 3-0 to advance to their third Frozen Four in four seasons. The Pios would eventually fall to #4 Massachusetts in overtime in the national semifinal.

In 2019-20, North Dakota’s Shane Pinto and Denver’s Bobby Brink were the two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, with Pinto earning the honor at the end of the season and Brink nabbing a unanimous NCHC All-Rookie Team selection. Here’s how the two stat lines compared:

Bobby Brink (right wing): 11 goals and 13 assists in 24 games played (0.86 points/game)

Shane Pinto (center): 16 goals and 12 assists in 33 games played (0.85 points/game)

In the November 2019 series at altitude in Denver (1-1 tie, 4-1 UND victory), neither freshman figured in on the scoresheet. When the teams took the ice in Grand Forks for a pair of NCHC games in February 2020 (a North Dakota sweep), Shane Pinto scored the first goal of the weekend and Bobby Brink notched a “natural answer” by potting the very next goal by either team. Pinto broke the head-to-head tie with an assist on Matt Kiersted’s opening-period goal in Saturday’s rematch.

Brink has collected three assists in his five games against UND this season. Overall, he has appeared in just fourteen games this year, with two goals and eight assists.

Pinto has three goals and two assists in his games against Denver this year, and his overall play has him in the mix for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The sophomore from Franklin Square, New York has an overall line of 15-13-28 in 24 games played, a faceoff win percentage of 62.1% (tops in the league), and a plus-minus rating of plus-14. Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player Of The Year, NCHC Forward Of The Year, and NCHC Defensive Forward Of The Year. Brink’s name did not appear on any of the league’s All-NCHC teams (First Team, Second Team, Honorable Mention).

Denver netminder Magnus Chrona (16-6-4, 2.15 goals-against average, a save percentage of .920, and two shutouts last season) was also named to last season’s All-Rookie team and was a finalist for the league’s Goalie of the Year award (which was won by Duluth senior Hunter Shepard). This season, it has been more of a struggle for Chrona, as he has seen all of his numbers dip (7-10-0, 2.52 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO) as the team in front of him has struggled.

After winning its second consecutive national title (and third in team history) in 2019, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the NCHC and capture the program’s first-ever Penrose Cup last season. Things looked to be on schedule for UMD, as they took a 7-1-2 record into St. Cloud. The Huskies earned a home sweep over Duluth (2-1, 2-0) to send the Bulldogs home reeling. North Dakota, which held a three-point lead over Scott Sandelin’s crew before those games, took five of six points at Miami to extend its lead to eight points over Duluth and nine points over Denver. UND never looked back, securing the program’s third Penrose Cup (2015, 2016) with a conference record of 17-4-3-2.

After sputtering to records of 17-13-10 (.550) and 18-17-2 (.514) and missing the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons, UND head coach Brad Berry got his team on the right track last year, winning the program’s third Penrose Cup as NCHC champions and collecting an overall record of 26-5-4 (.800).

As another sign that Berry has righted the ship, UND is now 45-10-5 (.792) over the past two seasons.

Turning our attention to this weekend’s matchup, Denver sophomore goaltender Magnus Chrona started out the season playing every minute in net, but his aforementioned struggles opened the door somewhat for graduate transfer Corbin Kaczperski (3-2-1, 2.60 GAA, .868 SV%), who has been up and down in his nine games played; here are Kaczperski’s career numbers from his three seasons at Yale:

29-22-4, 2.53 GAA, .911 SV%, and three shutouts.

In North Dakota’s second game at Denver back in January, UND’s Grant Mismash was issued a major penalty, a game misconduct, and an additional one-game suspension for running into DU goaltender Magnus Chrona with just over nine minutes remaining in the hockey game. Chrona, a 6’-6”, 216 lb. sophomore from Skelleftea, Sweden, missed a few games but has recovered and started the last five for David Carle’s squad.

Junior netminder Adam Scheel (17-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO) has made the majority of starts for North Dakota, with senior Peter Thome (2-2-0, 2.83 GAA, .872 SV%) appearing in five games. In addition to his four shutouts, Scheel has allowed just a single goal in six other victories this season. The junior from Lakewood, Ohio was recently named NCHC Goaltender of the Year and a 2021 Mike Richter Award finalist (along with eight other goaltenders; Scheel is the only finalist from the NCHC). The winner of this year’s Richter will be announced in April during the NCAA Frozen Four.

A key issue that separated the two teams in the first half of the season is that North Dakota mostly avoided the early departure bug while Denver lost forward Emilio Pettersen (13-22-35, left two years early), defenseman Ian Mitchell (10-22-32, left one year early), and goaltender Devin Cooley (4-3-2, 2.08 GAA, .908 SV%, left one year early). Of particular concern for the Pios is that Mitchell’s absence means that they returned only seven goals and 24 total points on their blue line.

By comparison, North Dakota’s five returning defensemen (Gabe Bast, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Ethan Frisch, Matt Kiersted, and Josh Rieger scored 17 goals and added 48 assists for a total of 65 points last season.

To be fair, Denver’s freshman blueliners have stepped up, with Mike Benning (3-7-10), Antti Tuomisto (2-9-11), and Reid Irwin (3-0-3) ranking 1st, 2nd, and 6th in scoring among Pioneer defensemen.

North Dakota also brought in three freshmen on the back end, and Jake Sanderson (2-10-12), Tyler Kleven (5-1-6), and Cooper Moore (2-3-5 in sixteen games) have UND boasting its finest defensive depth since the 2015-2016 championship season.

North Dakota went 7-2-1 in the pod, while Denver managed just three victories (3-6-1). In the pod, there was simply not as much time for practice, video work, and system adjustment, which meant that the teams with veteran leadership, depth, and good-to-excellent goaltending were in the best position to succeed.

Freshman forward Carter Savoie has been the brightest spot for Denver this season, tallying a team-leading twelve goals and adding seven assists through his first 23 collegiate games. Savoie, a 5-foot-9 left winger who notched 84 goals and 88 assists over two seasons (112 games) with the Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL), is a threat to score from anywhere on the ice. The 18-year-old from St. Albert, Alberta was a 4th-round pick (100th overall) of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2020 NHL entry draft.

North Dakota also has a rookie forward who has splashed in his first college season. Riese Gaber (9-8-17 in 25 games) is an undrafted right winger from Gilbert Plains, Manitoba (a six-hour drive from Grand Forks, ND) who spent his past two seasons in the USHL, scoring 56 goals and adding 49 assists in 108 games with the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Savoie and Gaber were named to the NCHC All-Rookie Team along with St. Cloud State forward Veeti Miettinen, North Dakota defenseman Jake Sanderson, Minnesota Duluth defenseman Wyatt Kaiser, and Miami goaltender Ludvig Persson.

A half-point per game or better is my benchmark for solid offensive production, and David Carle’s squad has six active players who meet that threshold: freshman forward Carter Savoie (12-7-19), junior forward Cole Guttman (8-14-22), senior forward Kohen Olischefski (4-9-13), sophomore forward Bobby Brink (2-8-10 in fourteen games), freshman defenseman Mike Benning (3-7-10 in twenty games), and junior forward Hank Crone (5-4-9 in twelve games).

By that same measure, Brad Berry has ten players at a half point or better per game: sophomore forward Shane Pinto (15-13-28), senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), senior forward Collin Adams (11-18-29), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), senior forward Grant Mismash (9-9-18 in 18 games), freshman forward Riese Gaber (9-8-17), junior forward Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), junior forward Mark Senden (3-11-14), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17), and freshman defenseman Jake Sanderson (2-10-12 in 18 games). Pinto, Kawaguchi, Adams, and Mismash are all averaging a full point or better per contest, although Mismash (upper body injury) is expected to miss his seventh consecutive game. It also remains to be seen whether Jacob Bernard-Docker (upper body injury) suits up for tonight’s contest or if Brad Berry elects to hold JBD out of the lineup until the NCAA regionals eleven days from now.

Jordan Kawaguchi was the only NCHC player to notch at least one point in each of his team’s games in the Omaha pod. Shane Pinto has already generated 147 shot attempts this season and won the league scoring title over Kawaguchi and Duluth’s Nick Swaney (13-14-27). Pinto was recently named the NCHC Player of the Year, Forward of the Year, and Defensive Forward of the Year.

Both Kawaguchi (7th in the nation in scoring) and Pinto (13th) should be considered candidates for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award along with teammate Matt Kiersted, whose 19 points rank fourth among defensemen.

Of UND’s four national award hopefuls, only Shane Pinto (Ottawa, #32 overall in 2019) has been drafted. Kiersted, Kawaguchi, and Scheel should all expect plenty of offers once they have used up their college eligibility. Including Pinto, the Fighting Hawks have twelve NHL draft picks on their roster, the most in the NCHC. UND is expected to bring in four more drafted players next season – Ethan Bowen, Matteo Costantini, Jackson Kunz, and Jake Schmaltz.

It is abundantly clear that North Dakota will have the puck a lot during the postseason, and the numbers bear that out. After 25 games, the Fighting Hawks are 6th in the nation in shots on goal allowed/game (24.8) and are in the top ten in the country in two key puck possession statistics:

Corsi (% of shots taken vs. opponent): 55.2% (9th)
Fenwick (% of unblocked shots taken vs. opponent): 56.4% (8th)

By comparison, the Pioneers are 13th in both Corsi (54.0%) and Fenwick (54.1%), averaging 30.7 shots on goal per game (North Dakota is averaging 31.6/game) while allowing 24.7 shots on goal against/contest.

Over the course of the season, Denver is leading the shot count 706-568. North Dakota is outshooting opponents 791-621

One key area to watch in this contest is the face-off dot. The Fighting Hawks are best in the nation in faceoff win percentage at 55.7 percent, while Denver is 45th (45.6%) among the 51 men’s college hockey teams to have played at least one game this season.

Leading the way in the faceoff circle for North Dakota have been Shane Pinto (62.1%), Jasper Weatherby (54.7%), and Collin Adams (55.0%). Denver will counter with Cole Guttman (54.6%), Jaakko Heikkinen (40.1%), and Connor Caponi (41.9%).

In their first meeting in the pod, North Dakota won 37 of 48 faceoffs (77.1%), including an incredible 18-0 performance by Shane Pinto. In the pod rematch, the faceoff battle was a bit closer, with UND winning 37 of 61 draws (60.7%). Pinto also came back to earth, going 17-9 (65.4%). In the series at altitude last month, the Fighting Hawks won the faceoff battle 68-57 (54.4%). North Dakota won 63 of 118 draws (53.4%) in the February sweep in Grand Forks. Competing in the dot has definitely been a point of emphasis for the Pios after being embarrassed in the Omaha pod.

The Fighting Hawks are scoring on 12.6 percent of their shots on goal, a remarkable statistic good for 2nd in the country. The Pioneers are in the middle of the pack, lighting the lamp on just 9.3 percent of their shots on goal (29th).

North Dakota’s puck possession game and sharpshooting have led to 100 goals scored by twenty different players in 25 games (4.00 goals scored/game); Denver has managed just 66 goals in its 23 games (2.87 goals scored/game).

UND’s offensive prowess is matched by their stingy defense, as the Fighting Hawks have only allowed 49 goals in 25 games (1.96 goals allowed/game). By comparison, Denver has allowed 2.78 goals per contest (64 goals allowed in 23 games).

Through 23 games, Denver has blocked 257 shots as a team, led by blueliners Justin Lee (29), Griffin Mendel (28), Antti Tuomisto (25), and forward Kohen Olischefski (21).

North Dakota has blocked 323 shots in its 25 games, with defensemen Matt Kiersted (45), Jacob Bernard-Docker (32), Gabe Bast (21), and forward Mark Senden (24!) leading the way.

When North Dakota is at full strength on the back end, they enjoy a roster advantage against nearly every opponent, and that will be the case again tonight. Denver’s six most likely starters on defense have combined for 13 goals and 28 assists in 120 combined games this season (0.34 points/game), while the six UND defenders expected in the lineup tonight have put together a line of 16 goals and 38 assists in 114 combined games (0.47 points/game). Matt Kiersted, Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven, Gabe Bast, and Cooper Moore can all defend, move the puck, and score, and Brad Berry has the luxury of trusting all of his defensemen in all situations, much like he had during North Dakota’s run to the national title in 2016 (with Gage Ausmus, Paul LaDue, Tucker Poolman, Hayden Shaw, Troy Stecher, Keaton Thompson, and Christian Wolanin manning the back end).

It is also worth noting that I have left Jacob Bernard-Docker (3-14-17 in 25 games) out of the comparison above; North Dakota’s advantage would be even greater if he is able to suit up tonight.

Remarkably, the Fighting Hawks’ d-corps has put up those offensive numbers while also allowing less than two goals per contest (1.96, good for 6th in the country). By comparison, Denver is allowing 2.78 goals per game (23rd).

To this point in the season, here is the specialty teams ledger:

Denver power play: 18 of 96, 18.8 percent (28th)
Denver penalty kill: 77 of 92, 83.7 percent (16th)

North Dakota power play: 27 of 112, 24.1 percent (8th)
North Dakota penalty kill: 90 of 104, 86.5 percent (7th)

North Dakota has scored four shorthanded goals this season, while the Pios have one to their credit. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a shorthanded tally this year; DU has given up one. That leaves Denver’s net specialty teams at a +3, while UND weighs in at +17.

The Pioneers have scored 18 of their 66 goals this season with the man advantage, while the Fighting Hawks have scored 27 of their 100 goals this season on the power play.

Two factors are working against the Pioneers tonight:

North Dakota has held DU scoreless on nineteen power plays over the past four meetings between the teams.

The Pioneers are just 6 for their last 49 with the man advantage (12.2%).

It has been better lately for David Carle’s power play units, with four goals on nine chances over the past two games. That being said, Denver must generate more five-on-five chances if the Pios hope to advance to tomorrow night’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.

The Fighting Hawks are hosting an NCAA Regional 70 miles south in Fargo, North Dakota on March 26 and 27 and would be automatically placed in that regional if they are selected for the national tournament, which seems to be a lock at this point.

Of course, being the home team means familiar surroundings and last line change, and that has certainly paid off for the Green and White this season. After going 18-1-0 at REA last season, North Dakota has gone 7-1-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents 36-10 while going 8-for-39 (20.5%) on the power play and killing 27 of 29 opponent man-advantage situations (93.1%). UND netminder Adam Scheel has been at his best at the Ralph, winning all six of his starts with a goals-against average of 0.84, a save percentage of .961, and two shutouts.

UND’s next potential road game is on Thursday, April 8th in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the site of this season’s NCAA Frozen Four.

Denver Pioneers

Head Coach: David Carle (3rd season at DU, 55-33-12, .610)
National Rankings: NR/NR

This Season: 10-12-1 overall, 9-12-1 NCHC (5th)
Last Season: 21-9-6 overall, 11-8-5-4 NCHC (3rd)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 2.87 goals scored/game – 29th of 51 teams
Team Defense: 2.78 goals allowed/game – 23rd of 51 teams

Power Play: 18.8% (18 of 96) – 28th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (77 of 92) – 16th of 51 teams

Key players: Freshman F Carter Savoie (12-7-19), Junior F Cole Guttman (8-14-22), Senior F Kohen Olischefski (4-9-13), Sophomore F Bobby Brink (2-8-10 in 14 games), Freshman D Mike Benning (3-7-10), Freshman D Antti Tuomisto (2-9-11), Junior D Slava Demin (3-5-8), Sophomore G Magnus Chrona (7-10-0, 2.52 GAA, .905 SV%, 1 SO)

North Dakota Fighting Hawks

Head Coach: Brad Berry (6th season at UND, 135-62-24, .664)
National Rankings: #2/#2

This Season: 19-5-1 overall, 18-5-1 NCHC (1st)
Last Season: 26-5-4 overall, 17-4-3-2 NCHC (1st)

2020-2021 Season Statistics:

Team Offense: 4.00 goals scored/game – 1st of 51 teams
Team Defense: 1.96 goals allowed/game – 6th of 51 teams

Power Play: 24.1% (27 of 112) – 8th of 51 teams
Penalty Kill: 86.5% (90 of 104) – 7th of 51 teams

Key players: Sophomore F Shane Pinto (15-13-28), Senior F Jordan Kawaguchi (7-24-31), Freshman F Riese Gaber (9-8-17), Senior F Collin Adams (11-18-29), Junior F Jasper Weatherby (11-8-19), Junior F Mark Senden (3-11-14), Senior D Matt Kiersted (3-16-19), Sophomore D Ethan Frisch (3-6-9), Freshman D Jake Sanderson (2-10-12 in eighteen games), Junior G Adam Scheel (17-3-1. 1.81 GAA, .929 SV%, 4 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: February 13, 2021 (Grand Forks, ND). Shots were limited but goals came in bunches, as the two teams combined for seven goals on just 41 shots. At the end of it all, North Dakota led on the scoreboard 5-2 thanks to two goals by Jasper Weatherby and 18 saves from Peter Thome, who started in place of injured netminder Adam Scheel. And how was Scheel injured, you might ask? Denver’s Kohen Olischefski ran Scheel from behind late in Friday’s 3-0 UND victory. Olischefski was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for goaltender interference and was issued an additional one-game suspension by the league office.

A Recent Memory: April 7, 2016 (Tampa, Florida). In the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four, the two league rivals squared off in a tightly-contested matchup. Senior forward Drake Caggiula scored twice early in the middle frame to stake UND to a 2-0 lead, but the Pioneers battled back with a pair of third period goals. The CBS line came through when it mattered most, with Nick Schmaltz scoring the game winner off of a faceoff win with 57 seconds remaining in the hockey game. North Dakota blocked 27 Denver shot attempts and goaltender Cam Johnson made 21 saves for the Fighting Hawks, who won the program’s eighth national title on the same sheet of ice two nights later.

Most Important Meeting: It’s hard to pick just one game, as the two teams have played four times for the national title. Denver defeated UND for the national championship in 1958, 1968, and 2005, while the Sioux downed the Pioneers in 1963. But the game that stands out in recent memory as “the one that got away” was DU’s 1-0 victory over the Fighting Sioux in the 2004 NCAA West Regional final (Colorado Springs, CO). That North Dakota team went 30-8-4 on the season (Dean Blais’ last behind the UND bench) and featured one of the deepest rosters in the past twenty years: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, Brady Murray, Colby Genoway, Drew Stafford and David Lundbohm up front; Nick Fuher, Matt Jones, Matt Greene, and Ryan Hale on defense; and a couple of goaltending stalwarts in Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt.

Last Ten Games: North Dakota went 3-0-1 against the Pioneers last year, outscoring the Pios 12-4 in the process. Splits in the Omaha pod and in Denver plus a home sweep last month give the Fighting Hawks a 7-2-1 (.750) advantage over the last ten games. UND has outscored DU 32-17 over that stretch, including a 20-13 scoreboard advantage this season.

All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 153-130-16 (.538), with a considerable edge of 89-44-10 (.657) in games played in Grand Forks. The teams first met in 1950, with North Dakota prevailing 18-3 in Denver.

Game News and Notes

UND is 18-0-0 when it scores the first goal and 1-5-1 when its opponent lights the lamp first. Denver has been outscored 29-21 in third periods and overtime this season, while UND is outscoring opponents 34-15 in the same frames. The Fighting Hawks have not allowed a third period goal at home this season (ten goals for). North Dakota and DU were tabbed to finish one-two in the league in the 2020-2021 NCHC Preseason Media Poll; the Pioneers did not hold up their end of the bargain. UND is 2-0-0 on Mondays this season, with wins at Colorado College and at Denver. Since seven of Michigan’s nine titles were earned by 1964, I consider Denver (eight titles) and North Dakota (eight titles) to be the top two men’s college hockey programs of all time.

The Prediction

It’s playoff time, and it’s no surprise that Denver is in the mix. North Dakota has all of the advantages – home ice, last line change, an extra day of rest, better goaltending, and the ability to field a full lineup. It won’t be easy, but if the Fighting Hawks can roll four lines and avoid getting drawn into a sloggy, whistle-filled penalty fest, they should survive, advance, and head into Tuesday with an opportunity to check another box. UND 4, Denver 2 (EN).

Broadcast Information

Monday and Tuesday’s NCHC Frozen Faceoff games will be televised live on CBS Sports Network. All UND men’s hockey games can be heard on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network as well as through the iHeart Radio app.

Social Media

Keep up with the action live during all UND hockey games by following @UNDmhockey and @UNDInsider on Twitter. Fans can also read the action via Brad Schlossman’s live chat on the Grand Forks Herald website.

As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!

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